Monday, November 21, 2016


Here's the Ron Howard-directed movie about the touring years of The Beatles, now in the DVD version, which is what I've been waiting for. As cool as the documentary is on screen, you always hope to get some exciting extras, and that's really happened. The special edition version comes with a excellent 64-page book, and even better, a second disc of bonus features. In some ways, the bonus disc here is the best part of the release.

The main movie is a really good look at those years of intense Beatlemania, from Hamburg to their last tour in 1966. Much of this is so well-known, and the footage so familiar, Howard deserves great praise for making it seem so fresh, with lots of photos, fast cuts, and new interviews. Surprisingly, he does best with the hardest subject matter, the negative end to playing shows, the miserable last tours of 1966. Howard is able to show the frustration of the group over the awful conditions, he lets us hear some examples of bad shows they did due to weak P.A's, and being unable to duplicate the increased sophistication of records such as Paperback Writer, and the burn-out they suffered from overwork. It's well worth it.

The bonuses are plentiful, almost two hours worth, and mostly a series of mini-docs on a variety of break-out topics. There's a piece on Lennon & McCartney as songwriters, another on George's importance as a guitar player, innovator (the whole Indian music thing), and eventually a writer as well. Ringo gets his due as well. During these bits, there are more and more photos and film clips, many of which are rare, probably found buried for decades. In behind, you start to hear more gems, not just live material, but also studio chatter and out-takes, all the stuff producer Giles Martin (son of George) has control over, so his involvement in the film was crucial.

Several of the featured live cuts in the film are presented in their full-length versions, always great for collectors, especially those awesome 1963 colour clips, the incredible She Loves You that opens the film. Then, things really get interesting. There are more interview parts with some of the most interesting voices in the film, including Larry Kane, the lucky journalist who got invited to go on the North American tours, and had top access and is a great witness to everything that went down. There is a segment with three fans we see in some of the original TV footage, and find out how they came to be at shows such as Ed Sullivan or the first full concert in Washington, looking at themselves screaming back then. Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes tells the story of touring England with the group in 1963, befriending them, and then helping them escape the fan-surrounded hotel in New York and taking them to Harlem where they wouldn't be recognized. The official photographer for the Japan tour of 1966 was found, and he talks about covering the visit like a war correspondent, such was the intensity of the security.

You can buy the one-disc version, and save yourself some money, but this is The Beatles, and when there is new, revelatory footage and stories, I don't think it's the time to be cheap.

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